Why training needs a fuller and richer conversation

Why training needs a fuller and richer conversation

As the Performance Director of two of the country’s largest training providers, Rathbone Training and Intraining, Gina Steele tells BQ Editor Mike Hughes about the impact they have on their communities and the plans for growth.

The numbers for both businesses are impressive enough on their own:  Intraining and Rathbone Training exist within NCG, which has four colleges, an annual turnover of £178 million and 3,000 staff across 61 locations. That huge scale enables them to work with more than 133,000 learners and 20,000 businesses each year.

The influence that gives them in so many regions is magnified by the structure of the organisation. With Rathbone Training being a charity and Intraining a not-for-profit business, everything they make is invested back for the benefit of customers and communities alike – a central core of the way both businesses are run.

“We made a decision last year to bring them together so that we can give the best value for what is essentially public money,” she explained. “It meant we were able to more easily share key services and best practice, and from a business perspective our employer-facing staff and customer-facing staff would have a single conversation about a range of products and, probably more importantly, can have a single ‘listen’ to what our employers need.”

The logistics of bringing together two key players in the training sector are daunting, but the Vision 2021 programme being led by Rathbone Training and Intraining’s Senior Leadership Team will make sure the passion colleagues have for helping people get jobs remains undiminished.

“Both organisations are centred on employability and increasing the offer to employers who will have a wider range of solutions because we are sharing the benefits of each other’s markets,” she told BQ. “But while we know we are a hugely influential operator on a large scale, for us it all comes down to the passion we have for simply helping people find work – for us it is all about levels of employability.

“I was away with over 50 of our young people at our youth conference recently and they were telling me how much they understand that what we can do together will give them sustainability and purpose and enable them to have that flat or that family they have always wanted.

“They are realistic, just as we are, about the area where they might find that employability and what first steps they will have to take to get there. We see our role as getting people to that first job and accepting that some people might need two years to get there, while others might make it in eight weeks. We will help them reach the skills level and personal development level to achieve whatever they are capable of.

“We know from years of experience that people don’t move forwards on a nice neat linear path when it comes to fundamentally life-changing experiences, so we need to deliver highly-personalised journeys and have to have the staff in place who can handle such a wide range of sectors and types of people. It can’t be in a typical classroom environment, it has to be done in partnership with employers to give an experience of the workplace.”

Fundamentally, Rathbone Training’s space is working with young people around 16-24 years old who have not, so far, successfully transitioned into employment because of predominantly socio-economic circumstances. It also delivers apprenticeships in some key areas like youth work and child care and in areas like volunteering, because as a charity it understands that audience. Intraining delivers apprenticeships to adults aged from 19 onwards in areas such as business management, business and health and social care and works closely with adults at JobCentres to deliver the Government’s work programme.

“That is the framework in which we operate and it includes regular Ofsted inspections but within that there has to be uniqueness to what we can offer for individual people,” said Gina.

It is important for us and the people we work with that we are externally tested on that information, advice and guidance and both our organisations have also been through the industry’s Matrix Standard programme to make sure we deliver the very best options to as many people as we can.

“The sectors we work with are also hugely varied and the range of job opportunities within them is equally wide-ranging. This means that there are chances of progress for so many people, but also means our own intimate knowledge of those sectors and the regional situation covering them in each of our 61 locations needs to be impeccable – and we work very hard to make sure that is  the case.

“We work in a very competitive training market, but I believe we offer a wider range of solutions than many other organisations which enables us to have a fuller and richer conversation. There are skills specialists out there, and employability specialists and those who work with adults and those who work with young people, but we cover all those areas and have a really big kit-bag that we can delve into to find the right answers.”

Despite its scale, there is a clarity about the two organisations that will be the envy of many smaller competitors. Rathbone Training and Intraining are about unlocking potential through learning and passing on strong values to as many people as possible. That work can start with a single phone call, or via the website or even via its Facebook or Instagram accounts.

But no matter how successful, no training organisation can ever sit back and think they have the job covered – the work changes all the time and issues like the Apprenticeship Levy underline that.

Gina said: “We are confident and realistic enough about its implications to be in a strong position to offer guidance to our customers and clients, so I see it as an opportunity for them and for us rather than a negative – and one that only affects two per cent of employers.

“The other 98 per cent are the SMEs that Rathbone Training works with while Intraining works more with levy-payers, so we have a full picture already forming within our own work.

“We are positive in terms of engagement and working with new and existing customers to deliver what they need as the landscape around them changes – and if our two organisations can’t deliver exactly what they want then we have the experience and the contacts to help them find someone who can. That is a privileged position and we have worked hard to be confident enough to offer that level of service.”

For Gina, not every conversation needs to lead to a transaction – as long as something happens that is of benefit to the customer, she and her colleagues will take pride in acting as a conduit to help make it happen.

For the future, the Vision 2021 programme will encourage a ‘past, present, future’ dialogue about the unique values of the organisation and how they can take them forward and develop their offering.

“Whatever we do,” said Gina, “we will always keep employability for jobs as our focus and the key to the trusted collaborations we have with employers and the community – people will always be at the heart of our business.”

With so much experience across so many sectors and regions Intraining and Rathbone Training are already a trusted driving force in the training sector, influencing and directing policies and strategies that are changing the way young people are trained and apprenticeships delivered. It is a challenging job with a set of responsibilities that can literally be life-changing for its own staff as well as the people it works with.